When Can Child Support Be Changed and When Does Child Support End Under Pennsylvania Law?

By Cynthia Weiss Stein

Once you have a child support order, it will continue at the same amount until it is either modified or terminated by an order of court. Even if parents agree that it should be changed, a court order is required, because the Pennsylvania State Collection and Disbursement Unit (PA SCDU) tracks child support, charging the paying parent and disbursing to the receiving parent at regular intervals. Without a court order, PA SCDU will continue to charge the case in the amount of the old order, which may result in enforcement proceedings and be difficult to straighten out later. A lawyer can calculate the new support amount and help to negotiate an agreed order, or can accompany a parent to court if an agreement cannot be reached.

Modification of Child Support

The standard for modifying child support is a “material and substantial change in circumstances.” 231 Pa. Code Rule 1910.19. Some common examples of a material and substantial change in circumstances are:

  • A significant change in income for either parent (getting a big raise or a new higher paying job, losing a job or being forced to take a lower paying position, becoming disabled);
  • A change in child care costs
  • A change in primary custody
  • Termination of spousal support or alimony

These are the most common examples of material and substantial changes in circumstances, but there are other changes that would justify a modification, so if you are in a situation that seems to affect the income of a parent or unexpected expenses for a child, it would be wise to contact a lawyer to discuss your situation.

Termination of Child Support

In Pennsylvania, child support is paid for each child until he or she reaches the age of eighteen or graduates from high school, whichever occurs second. Thus, if a child turns eighteen before high school graduation, the date of graduation is the termination event. If a child graduates before they turn eighteen, then the child’s eighteenth birthday is the termination event.

There are a few rare exceptions to the 18 or high school graduation standard for termination of child support. If a child obtains full-time employment, joins the military, or marries while still the subject of a child support order, this may be an emancipating or terminating event.

Where a support order is for several children and support for one of them is to terminate, this does not mean the order is simply divided by the number of children and reduced by the amount for one of them. So, if there are two children and support for the oldest is to terminate, that does not mean support is cut in half. It must be recalculated under the guidelines for one child, and will generally be more (sometimes substantially more) than half of the previous amount.

College

Divorcing parents are often surprised to learn that Pennsylvania law does not obligate parents to contribute to their child’s support during college or to college tuition. In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decided this in 1992. Blue v. Blue, 532 Pa. 521, 616 A.2d 628 (1992). The obligation of divorcing parents to contribute only arises when the parties have a written agreement including those terms.

The divorce and family law attorneys of Shemtob Draganosky Taylor can guide you through all aspects of your support matter. Call our family lawyers in Montgomery County at 215-542-2105 for a confidential discussion.

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